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Wales, England, Dublin in 16 days, part 1

I’m grateful for so much great advice on this forum, so hopefully I’m paying it forward at least a little in this report. I’ll just mention restaurants and hotels that were memorably good or bad, and try to mention travel details that weren’t in the guidebooks. DH, DD and I flew into Dublin on May 17 on Aer Lingus for a 2 ½ week trip. We chose Dublin because of good ticket prices and excellent proximity to North Wales. The plane was an older Airbus but service, movie choices and personal space were just fine and better than some service received lately on U.S. carriers. Taxied to the Dublin Ferry Port (L50). Public bus would have been cheaper but we didn’t want the bleary hassle. We chose the ferry because we wanted to start our driving loop in Holyhead and the simplicity of ferry travel was appealing compared to getting on yet another flight. We took the 8:30 Ulysses ferry to Holyhead, booking a reasonable cabin with 2 single beds, couch and bath w/shower. Generally DH sleeps well on the plane but the rest of us usually need a long nap. The ferry rolls a little bit and there is the low sound of the engine humming but none of that was significant for sleeping. And we always carry earplugs. We were a little worried about ‘oversleeping’ but there are loud general announcements as you near port. We hit Anglesey more refreshed and ready to go around noon.

At Holyhead there is a small main terminal with one window for Hertz. We booked an automatic since it was our first time driving on the left. Thank you to all on the forum who gave thoughtful advice on this topic. Once outside small Holyhead you’re in the countryside, so it was a good place to start. DH is a confident driver and we’ve rented cars many times in Europe so we were up to the challenge. The first 30 minutes or so were a little rough, so glad we had decided to drive a short distance the first day. In the entire trip we only turned into the wrong lane a couple of times. Non-highway roads in Wales can be narrow and winding, frequently with no shoulder and sometimes with hedges and trees just beside the road, reminding DH at times of driving in Ireland. The smaller lanes can be intense. Drivers are courteous and roads are well-signed.

We stayed at Blackthorn Farm near Holyhead, a comfortable, friendly B&B with fantastic breakfast. The family room was reasonably priced, ample and just right for three of us. Blackthorn is very near South Stack.. We spent several hours there enjoying the amazing views over the Irish Sea, Ellin’s Tower nature center, walking the trails on the coast, and grabbed a hearty lunch at the visitor’s center. BTW most major sights had surprisingly good cafes that were a timesaver. That evening we ate at the Black Seal at Treaddur Bay. It was cool and windy so the beach was almost empty, but it was a pretty sight from the restaurant. The Black Seal serves trendy food decently prepared.

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The next day we stopped at Newborough Beach and couldn’t tear ourselves away from the beauty. We were there perhaps 3 hours just walking the beach. The two large twin beaches are backed by pine woods. At low tide the beaches are both broad and long, and you can also walk out on a rocky backbone of a small peninsula out into the bay. There is a picture-perfect view of the Snowdonia mountains in the distance. On a Friday morning in mid-May there were very few people around. The water was shallow and warm for wading. No one was swimming. BTW the beach parking lot has restrooms, beach shower, and on that day a few food trucks. After Newborough we stopped at Bryn Celli Ddu passage tomb, which is heavily restored but pretty cool. Onward to Caernaerfon castle, which was great fun and impressively reconstructed. We left at around 17:00 and drove through Snowdonia National Park (beautiful), arriving in Builth Wells around 20:00 (w/minor car trouble). The Bronwye hotel in Builth Wells had canceled our reservation because they tried to run our old canceled credit card; apparently they had emailed 24-48 hours before but we were traveling and didn’t see the email. That was a big disappointment because the Bronwye was perfectly situated for our next activity and we had to scramble to get a room. They made no apology. This was difficult because the Royal Welsh Spring Festival, which attracts 20,000 people, was the next day in Builth Wells. After phoning around for 10 minutes we found a B&B about 10 miles away. All of this paragraph occurred in one somewhat long day, giving you an idea of what’s possible with the driving distances from Holyhead to mid-Wales.

We like to attend rural fairs at home, and the Royal Welsh Spring Festival was just as delightful. We enjoyed a relaxing day watching the judging and just talking with people. We loved the Indian curry fair food. We chatted with people who had a dog just like ours. It really made us feel at home in Wales.

Next day we drove south, through Brecon Beacons and around Cardiff to St Fagans. For me the highlight was the excellent tea above Gwalia Supply. The newish Bryn Eyr Iron Age homestead was cool but not staffed, so the lack of information was disappointing. We then drove to Tintern Abbey. I was surprised by the impact it had on all of us. There was something special about the cathedral shell open to the sky and nature. We had great fun taking tons of evocative pictures. From there we drove to Bath. The Bath Holiday Suites (apartments for 2 nights) were fantastic for thoughtful amenities, location and great laundry facilities. We had tapas for dinner at a friendly little tapas restaurant, La Perla. The Fashion Museum was a refreshingly different museum so we lingered there. We’re big Jane Austen fans so overlooked the lack of authentic artifacts at the Jane Austen museum and really enjoyed the experience. The Austen tea was stacked with treats. The super-creative exhibits at the Roman Baths museum brought the history alive; we were there at opening and it was still too busy for my taste due to tour groups. Wish we had been later in the summer when there are extended hours.

Next to the Portsmouth Dockyards. The Mary Rose exhibit is one-of-a-kind. The reconstructed ship stands to its full height inside the building with artifacts placed where they were found. Really amazing. DH is a big fan of nautical books; the HMS Victory was a major highlight for him. Victory is pristine and in full glory. We also toured the HMS Warrior, the National Museum of the Royal Navy, and Action Stations (interactive naval-related video games and activities). We stayed at B&B Cavendish Lodge which was quirky but a very nice place. Dinner at the Still and West which is immediately next to the harbor; the ferries and other craft seem so close that you can touch them, which was very entertaining.

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The next day we saw Stonehenge, Avebury, and Lacock Abbey. We’re all big Harry Potter fans so part of the attraction to the latter were the locations used in Harry Potter. I’m so glad we went to Stonehenge, even though ‘it looks just like the pictures’. It’s age and the surrounding ritual landscape are awe-inspiring. I love this ancient stuff, so for me this day felt a little rushed. Since I’m such a big fan, I probably should have hired a guide for the day. Ah, next time.

Next day, Blenheim Palace, with it’s association with the Spencer family and great man Winston Churchill. The gardens and grounds were a wonderful stroll. We then moved on for 2 days in the Cotswolds. We stayed at the Porch House, which advertises as the oldest inn in England. It is restored almost to the brink of taking away it’s ancient character, but visually quite beautiful. It was expensive and the lower priced rooms were small, with ultra-tiny baths however, so I wouldn’t stay there again. My favorite restaurant on the 2 ½ week trip was the Queen’s Head in Stow-on-the-Wold. Great pubby food and drinkß, ambience, location. We did a few long walks, 7 miles one day. I wasn’t blown away; I assume we needed to pick routes with more character.

Leaving the Cotswolds we stopped by Anne Hathaways’ house in Stratford. The docents were extremely knowledgeable and we got a brief but very satisfying Shakespeare fix with little trouble. Same day we stopped at the Cosford RAF museum, which has an extensive collection. Great visit; I can’t imagine what one of large RAF museums would be like based on this collection.

Next day we were in Ironbridge Gorge. Our favorite there was Blist’s Hill. The costumed interpreters really made our day and we learned so much about that historical period. We also particularly enjoyed the Ironbridge Gorge Museum and the tile museum. Our Library House (beautiful) innkeepers recommended the Aftab Indian restaurant and we feasted on several dishes we hadn’t had before (yum). It’s not a fancy place but the food was fantastic.

Next to Conwy. We spent hours at luscious Bodnant Gardens; its simply first rate and the roses seemed to be at peak. We stayed at the Gwynfryn B&B which is centrally located in Conwy. Wished we had made reservations for Alfredo’s next door because of the wonderful smells. We loved Conwy castle for it’s location and authenticity.

On to Anglesey. where we stayed at centrally located B&B Llwydiarth Fawr. Our hostess was hugely welcoming and made us feel at home. DH’s back went out due to an old injury and they helped us find a doctor and even offered to drive us there(!) The plan was coastal walking but we had to slow down and enjoy the easily accessible sights. One of our favorite places was the Ship Inn at Pentraeth; great food and atmosphere. We took relaxing long walks on the beach. The sea water was still cool at the end of May but fine for wading. Some were swimming with and without wet suits but they are hardier souls. There are a number of scenic beaches, cliffs and cute towns on that side of Anglesey.

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Heading back to Dublin, we took the Stena Superfast. The small scale of the Holyhead facility made it easy to drop off the car and board the ferry with perhaps 50 other foot passengers. We taxied from the ferry port to our hotel in central Dublin. The vibrance of Dublin is impressive. The Gastro Bar at Fade St. Social was memorably good for inventive riffs on tapas, perhaps equaling in it’s own way some of the amazing tapas restaurants we visited in Seville. Surprisingly good was the EPIC Irish Immigration Museum. DD loved the interactive nature of the exhibits and the social justice themes. Dublinia was a great tour of Viking-age Dublin. The National Museum of Archeology has ancient gold treasures that are jaw-dropping. Two days is a perfect amount of time in Dublin, or three if you like to slow down a bit. BTW going through U.S. customs in Dublin was a nice time-saver, but once you’re through customs and waiting in the special terminal there is very little choice in terms of food.

Weather: Mostly 60’s F with some days of almost 80. 4 to 5 grey days and only one day with showers all day. Wishes: (1) time to visit Gower and Pembrokeshire, (2) walking time in Snowdonia, (3) a better choice walks of in the Cotswolds on our part. But all-in-all a fantastic trip. DD said Wales ‘felt like home’; I think we accomplished something.

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P.S. This is actually all of the trip report; I didn't see a need to post it as separate topics.

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Many thanks for this detailed trip report. You certainly covered a wide variety of places. Most walks in The Cotswolds are in areas off hilly farmland. I have walked Newborough beach and it is well worth seeing - a place that few Americans would think of visiting.

Flights to Dublin can be cheaper than England because the British government has imposed a departure tax. The devolved Government in Wales are trying to get the British Government to allow them to scrap this tax in order to allow cheaper flights into Cardiff Airport.

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It would have been great to fly directly into Cardiff. I would have visited sights in the city of Cardiff if that had been the case, such as the national museum.